Johann Strauss II (1825-1899) was an Austrian composer of primarily dance music and operettas. Some of his most well known works were An der schönen blauen Donau (Blue Danube), Die Fledermaus, and this polka, Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lightning Polka, 1868).
As the name suggested, this polka was very programmatic. The strong imagery of nature in this work placed this piece firmly in the midst of the Romantic era. The strong rolls of thunder and bolts of lightning can easily be heard from the percussion right at the beginning, and the piece was continually interrupted by these moments of nature's fury. In terms of harmonies and structure, this polka was not as adventurous as some music of the era. It had a very normal ternary structure of ABA with coda. The harmonies were somewhat predictable, and there were some chromatic twists in the melody which gave the piece more character. This could also be used to describe how this piece does not fit in to the later part of the Romantic era.
I decided to compare this piece to another piece closely related in sound. Ralph Vaughan William's Sea Songs (1924) provided an interesting comparison for the polka. While offset in dates by 56 years, Sea Songs had a similar sound and character to Unter Donner und Blitz. They were both character based works and both about nature. It would be difficult to place both of these pieces in their correct eras when played back to back. I think the main difference between their characters was that Strauss Jr. made his nature sounds more exaggerated than that of Vaughan Williams. There was something nautical about Vaughan William's piece, but there could have been more use of imagery to enhance that.
I enjoy orchestral works very much, and I had a hard time trying to pick something similar to Strauss's polka for a comparison. I think the over the top nature sounds puts it in the Romantic era, where as Vaughan Williams piece comes later in history. I thought both of the works' characters and upbeat, dance-like energy would provide an excellent comparison, despite being written 56 years apart from each other.
Kemp, Peter. "Strauss." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 19, 2014. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.proxy.lib.utk.edu:90/subscriber/article/grove/music/52380pg1#S52380.1
Palmer, John. "Unter Donner und Blitz (Thunder and Lightning), polka schnell for orchestra, Op. 324 (RV 324)." Allmusic. Allmusic, 2014. http://www.allmusic.com/composition/unter-donner-und-blitz-thunder-and-lightning-polka-schnell-for-orchestra-op-324-rv-324-mc0002367779.
Strauss II, Johann. "STRAUSS II: Unter Donner und Blitz (Polka) - Daniel Barenboim / Berliner Philharmoniker" (video). Accessed April 19, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPIpBeGDW2Y.
Vaughan Williams, Ralph. "Quick March: Sea Songs - Ralph Vaughan Williams" (video). Accessed April 19, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCpimLb7SPM.